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Opinion: Labour, be careful what you wish for

Thursday 22 Nov 2012 4:23 p.m.

Garner says every year, the wider party and members will have the chance to overthrow the leader (file pic)

Garner says every year, the wider party and members will have the chance to overthrow the leader (file pic)

Dissent. Uprisings. Rebellion. Scraps. Blood.

It was something Helen Clark kept a careful lid on. 

Not even on her weakest day or in a moment of madness would Clark have given up control of who picks the leader of the proud Labour Party – never, ever.

Caucus must control its own destiny.

What happened last Saturday would never have happened under Clark's strong leadership. Now the Labour leader can get rolled and rolled easily.

If a minority of 13 other MPs out of 34 decide to support Grant Robertson or David Cunliffe next February, then that triggers a party wide vote.

During that vote, party members get a 40 percent say and unions get a 20 percent say. You reckon they'll hang on to David Shearer in that scenario? Doubt it. And it's like that every three years.

The February following each election, Labour will be able to boot out their sitting leader - that leader may have just months earlier been crowned Prime Minister.

It's a recipe for instability. Quite frankly it's a disaster, a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Imagine what it would look like in the media: For Labour it would mean weeks of public sniping and bitching.

If the 40 percent caucus vote and 40 percent party member vote cancels each other out - i.e the caucus wants a change but the party members don't, then guess who has the casting vote?

The unions. They get 20 percent.

Could the unions select the next Prime Minister? Yes. Could they dump a sitting Prime Minister just two or three months after they took office?Yes.

It's democracy at its best and worst. It's great for members - they feel part of the process again.

 I believe they actually want to exercise this voting right in February, and choose a leader.

They may endorse Shearer. But they want a say. They've been given a big red shiny car with a V8 under the hood - and they want to put the foot down on the gas!

They feel valued. It may drive up membership. That's all good. And it's brave of Labour to follow in the footsteps of the British Labour Party.

But it's also bloody mad: a minority of grumpy MPs can trigger a destabilising public coup or primary.

It will be ugly. And it's exactly what Labour members voted for. No wonder some MPs spoke out strongly against it.

I can see and hear Helen Clark's evil little giggle right now. But she'll also be shaking her head over a luke-warm but weak cup of tea in her New York apartment.

“This wouldn't have happened on my watch,” she'll be saying.

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